Kirk Ferentz: Take note. This is how you beat Minnesota.
Matt Gatens followed up his Swiss Army Knife 6-point, 12-rebound performance in Madison Saturday night with maybe his best game as a Hawkeye, Zach McCabe contributed 10 points, and a parade of Iowa big men silenced the Gopher frontcourt as Iowa basketball defeated Minnesota last night, 64-62. The victory was Iowa's first at Williams Arena since 2007, and when coupled with Saturday's victory over Wisconsin, makes this Iowa's first two-game Big Ten winning streak since early February 2010 and two-game road winning streak since 2007 (it's also the first time Iowa's been over .500 in the Big Ten since 2007, even if it is just 2-1).
In the first half, Minnesota did what everyone expected Minnesota to do: Rely on its frontcourt size to attack Melsahn Basabe, get him in foul trouble, and feast on the Iowa bench. Basabe was able to stay out of foul trouble for most of the first half, but it could not have mattered less (Basabe finished scoreless). Eventually, he was benched in favor of "Dunk L'Orange" Aaron White, and the combination of White and Zach McCabe contributed 58 minutes, 22 points, 13 rebounds, 7 offensive boards, 4 assists and one serious bulwark against the flood of seven-footers the Gophers typically love to throw at Iowa. Their contributions, combined with Gatens (an absurd 19 points, 6 boards, and 3 assists) and a stellar defensive effort from the bigs (Devon Archie -- DEVON ARCHIE -- was phenomenal in nine minutes of covering Ralph Sampson 3: Electric Boogaloo), were enough to overcome some dreadful free throw shooting down the stretch.
Less than a month ago, Iowa was 5-5, losers of five in seven, and smarting from a drubbing in Ames. Since that game (and a week off for finals), the Hawkeyes have gone 5-1, with their only loss a three-point defeat to Purdue. In Big Ten play, they are last in three-point attempts and percentage of points from three-point field goals, and first in free throw attempts. After averaging 24 three-points attempts per game in November, Iowa is down to just under 10 per game in conference play. Rebounding has improved as a result, and Iowa has entered the top half of the conference in total rebounds. McCaffery's last team at Siena played like this: Transition buckets, slashing point guards, crashing the offensive glass, and cutting down on the opponent's effective percentage. They're about halfway there, but with Cartwright and Marble at the controls and Matt Gatens going from knee-jerk outside jump shooter to legitimate mid-range threat and all-purpose performer, this team is finally looking more like McCaffery's version of basketball, and a lot less like Todd Lickliter's.
Iowa plays #7 Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday afternoon; as good as Wisconsin and Minnesota have been this year, OSU presents a completely different challenge. But there's finally a little something to show for all the pain, Iowa fans. Iowa basketball might be coming back. We've missed it so much.